Saturday 3 December 2016

Charlie's €330 vintage wine was charged to taxpayer

Diarmuid Doyle

Published 30/12/2011 | 05:00

Charles Haughey at his Abbeville home in Dublin
Charles Haughey at his Abbeville home in Dublin

TALES of lavish spending in the halls of power were not confined to the Celtic Tiger years.

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Newly released state papers show that even 30 years ago certain political figures were known to submit sizeable expense claims for lunch or entertainment.

Perhaps most brazen was Charles Haughey's order for expensive French wine at the taxpayer's expense -- just five days before he was replaced as Taoiseach.

While political parties horsetraded and negotiated in a bid to form a new government following the June 11 election, Haughey ordered a bottle of Chateau Rauzan-Segla Margaux (1971). It was delivered from Bagots wine merchants in Dublin on June 25, 1981 and cost IR£89.65.

That is the equivalent of €336 today, according to Central Bank figures, which show that £1 in 1981 is worth €3.75 in 2011.

Invoice

The 1981 files contain an invoice from Bagots to the Department of the Taoiseach, which was still unpaid the following November.

It was resubmitted by Bagots with an accompanying letter, which read: "We look forward to a cheque in the near future."

A departmental official then wrote to Nuala Turner, Haughey's assistant at his Kinsealy home, inquiring as to whether the wine had been "supplied for entertainment purposes," adding: "I would be grateful if you would certify the invoice and return it to me."

The file also contains details of entertainment expenses claimed by Garret FitzGerald after he became Taoiseach. These amounted to IR£196.26 (€736) and included a lunch for SDLP leader John Hume at the then Taoiseach's Dublin 6 home, which cost IR£30.50.

Dr FitzGerald spent IR£37.88 on a dinner at the St Stephen's Green Club, with his department secretary Declan Kelly.

He hosted a dinner at his home in October 1981 for the French foreign minister, Claude Cheysson.

The cost of the food is not included in the file, which shows that Dr Fitzgerald spent IR£45 hiring a waiter (IR£25) and waitress (IR£20) and another IR£11 on laundry costs associated with the Frenchman's visit.

Meanwhile, Dr FitzGerald's press secretary Liam Hourican claimed entertainment expenses of more than IR£1,100 in the three months after he began his job in the summer of 1981.

Files in the National Archives show that the massive sum -- the equivalent of more than €4,200 today -- was spent on a series of 18 lunches and dinners in some of Dublin's finest restaurants, including the Grey Door, Le Coq Hardi and Chez La Hiff.

The highest claim was for a meal for nine at Le Provence restaurant on October 5 1981. It cost IR£209.70, or more than €786 in today's terms.

On July 9, nine days after Dr FitzGerald had replaced Charles Haughey as Taoiseach, Mr Hourican spent IR£201.57 (more than €755 today) on another meal for nine people at The Grey Door.

The files include a letter from an official in the Department of Finance to the secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach, querying Mr Hourican's expenses, although he or she does not appear to have had full access to the press secretary's expenses claims at the time.

The letter sanctions the cost of four specific meals for which Mr Hourican had claimed expenses but points out that "the minister (John Bruton) is perturbed to note the huge level of expenditure in this instance and, in particular, that the lunch on 21 September cost IR£27.05, which is nearly four times the delegated limit.

"I am to request your department to bring the entertainment limits to Mr Hourican's attention, with a view to keeping expenditure on entertainment within the approved limit". According to the files in the National Archives, the September 21 lunch was with RTE reporter Mike Burns and cost IR£54.10 (€203).

The other three meals which caught the attention of the Finance official were with Michael Heaney from RTE's 'Today Tonight', Joe O'Malley from the 'Sunday Independent' and Anthony Cronin, the government's cultural-affairs adviser. The reaction of the Department of Finance to two expense claims of more than IR£200 is not in the files.

Irish Independent

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